Woman K and her husband migrated, without documentation, from Guatemala in the late 1980s. At the time, she was in her mid 20s. They went to Tijuana, Mexico where they hired a coyote who took them to Orange Country, LA. However, their first crossing was unsuccessful as they were detained, and it took a second crossing, where they had to walk across the desert for miles before a car picked them up, for them to successfully reach the United States. They left Guatemala for economic reasons and stayed in the U.S. for 6-7 years, before the husband wanted to leave. To this day, Woman K says she didn’t want to leave, and still wants to return.
“Roxanne Doty has pointed out that the US-Mexico border forms an exemplary space of exception where those seeking to enter the country without permission are often reduced to bare life… by border policies that do not recognize the rights of unauthorized migrants” (Leon 28).
The border has changed much since Woman K crossed. The United States has adopted a new border policy called Prevention Through Deterrence. With this, the United States border patrol funnels migrants through dangerous elements of the desert – in an attempt to dissuade them from crossing. Yet, this harsh environment, instead of stopping undocumented migration, has further exasperated the violence that the migrants are exposed to. In particular, women are exposed to dangerous conditions that exist outside of the natural forces of the desert.
“One researcher estimates that as many as 90% of women who attempt to cross undocumented into the United States through Northern Mexico suffer sexual assault, which indicates the are many untold stories if trauma” (León 17).
“A study conducted by the Binational Migration Institute (BMI) in 2006 found that women were 2.67 times more likely to die of exposure than were men” (Leon 246).
Through crossing the border, women are stripped to bare life and are rendered into a state similar to that of the Roman homo sacer. These designation as a homo sacer – a sacred man – meant that one could be killed by anyone without punishment but that it is not permitted for the homo sacer to be sacrificed. In his writing about homo sacer Agamben states that they “exist outside both human and divine law” (Agamben 74). Migrants mirror this in that they are allowed to die. The border patrol knows that the desert kills migrants and developed strategies to make the desert more violent and harder to cross – and therefore more lethal. And if a migrant dies while crossing the border then its no one’s fault – even if specific policies were designed to push the migrant into a lethal area. The inability to be sacrificed mirrors the sphere of unknown and ambiguity that migrant death’s occupy. Many bodies are not found, or never identified. This leaves families without anyone to bury, sometimes never knowing what happened to their family. This impeded burials, religious ceremonies and mourning.
“Compared to those for men, there are significantly fewer journalistic accounts and ethnographic data focused on the experiences of female border crossers. The paucity of research is linked to both a male subject research bias and the fact that women typically make up less than 15 percent of the undocumented migration stream in any given year” (Leon 246)